South Africa’s graft-accused ex-president Jacob Zuma said on Monday he had been “vilified”, as he testified at a judicial inquiry into the alleged looting of state funds while he was in power. “I have been vilified, alleged to be the king of corrupt people,” he told the inquiry. “I have been given every other name and I have never responded to those issues. I believe it is important that we respect one another.”
Zuma had struck a characteristically relaxed tone ahead of his televised appearance, which could last for five days, tweeting a video on Sunday of himself dancing and singing “Zuma must fall” before laughing heartily. The former president is accused of fostering a culture of corruption during a nine-year reign before he was ousted in 2018 by the ruling ANC party and replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zuma, 77, was not legally required to appear at the inquiry into the so-called “State Capture” scandal. State capture describes a form of corruption in which businesses and politicians conspired to influence policies to advance their own interests. He denies all wrongdoing and dismissed the concept of “state capture”, while his lawyers have described the inquiry as an attempt to “ambush and humiliate” him.
Zuma, who addressed the commission at the start of the day, said that he had been the victim of “character assassination over 20 years.” His request to see questions in advance was denied by the inquiry commission, which had invited him to appear “to give his side of the story” after other witnesses gave damning evidence against him.
Led by judge Raymond Zondo, the probe is investigating a web of deals involving government officials, the wealthy Gupta family and state-owned companies. “The commission is not mandated to prove any case against anybody but is mandated to investigate and inquire into certain allegations,” Zondo said, thanking Zuma for appearing.
Before Zuma spoke, his lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane told the commission: “The propaganda machine out there has been quite alive. “The former president established this commission and is willing to cooperate.”
Multiple allegations against Zuma
According to Angelo Agrizzi, one of the inquiry witnesses, Zuma allegedly accepted a monthly $2,200 bribe delivered in luxury bags from a contracting firm that was trying to evade police investigation. The money was in theory for his charity foundation.
Agrizzi said his company also organised free parties, bulk alcohol supplies and birthday cakes to keep favour with Zuma’s associates. Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, who was sacked by Zuma in 2015, testified that Zuma pushed policies on nuclear power and aviation that were designed to benefit the Gupta family.
The Gupta brothers are accused of fraudulently profiting from government contracts including energy and transport deals under Zuma. The family-owned uranium mine, which would have seen profits soar from the nuclear deal, as well as a portfolio of mining, technology and media companies.
They allegedly held such sway over Zuma that they were able to select some of his cabinet ministers. Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas told the inquiry that the Guptas offered him the finance minister’s job and even threatened to kill him after he refused to accept a $40 million bribe.
Zuma was forced to set up the inquiry in January 2018, shortly before he left office, after failing in a legal battle to overturn the instructions of the country’s ethics ombudsman. Sitting in central Johannesburg, it has heard from scores of witnesses over 130 days in session since last year.
Zuma has separately been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to an arms deal from before he became president. The Indian-born Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – have left South Africa and are now based in Dubai. They also deny any wrong-doing.
Eager to distance himself from the Zuma era, Ramaphosa has declared his presidency as a “new dawn” for the country and described the inquiry as a “very painful process”.
Togo announces presidential election for February next year
Gnassingbe has been in power for nearly 15 years since succeeding his father Eyadema Gnassingbe
Togo will hold elections in February next year, when incumbent President Faure Gnassingbe is expected to seek a fourth term in office.
A government decree published late Thursday after a cabinet meeting said the presidential election will be held on February 22 with a second-round organised if no candidate gets a clear majority.
Gnassingbe has been in power for nearly 15 years since succeeding his father Eyadema Gnassingbe, who led the country with an iron fist for 38 years.
The decree said for the first time Togo citizens living abroad will be able to cast their votes at embassies in the countries where they are living.
Election campaigning will start on February 6 and end February 20.
Opposition parties and civil society leaders, including Togo’s bishops, last month called for the election to be suspended to allow for a reorganisation of the constitutional court, the electoral register and the national electoral commission.
In early May, the Togolese deputies voted a constitutional amendment allowing Gnassingbe to run again in 2020 and 2025, but also to benefit from immunity for life “for acts done during presidential terms”.
Senator Orji Uzor Kalu bags 12 years imprisonment
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday sentenced Senator Orji Uzor Kalu to 12 years in prison for fraud.
Orji Kalu, a serving senator representing Abia North and former governor of Abia State, was handed a 12-year jail sentence by Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court Lagos for N7.65 billion fraud.
Kalu was tried alongside Slok Nigeria Limited, a company he chairs and Mr Udeh Udeogu who was Director of Finance and Accounts of the state house at the time Kalu was governor of Abia State.
The convicts were accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of conspiring to divert and diverting over N7billion state fund in an amended 39-count charge.
The EFCC alleged in one of the counts that Senator Kalu did procure a company solely owned by him and members of his family – Slok Nigeria Limited – to retain in its account, an aggregate sum of N7,197,871,208.7 on his behalf.
The prosecution had argued that the N7.1 billion formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of the Abia State Government and which was laundered into several bank drafts before they were paid into Slok Nigeria’s account.
Counsel to EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs SAN, further argued that such action was in violation of Section 17(c) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, and the defendant was liable to be punished under Section 16 of the same Act.
Kalu and the other defendants were also accused of receiving the sum of N460 million allegedly pilfered from the Abia State Government treasury between July and December 2002.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to all the counts.
While the matter lasted in court, the prosecution called a total of 19 witnesses and the defendants testified on their own behalf.
Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed to avoid questions at Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo
Events kick off with meetings at the Nobel Institute and a large press conference with the Peace Prize winner
The Norwegian Nobel Committee is grappling with challenges just days before the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize arrives in Oslo.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has made it clear he won’t attend any event where he could publicly be asked questions, either by the press or even children, and the committee finds that “highly problematic.”
Olav Njølstad, Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and secretary for the committee that annually awards the Peace Prize, told Norwegian Broadcasting that the Nobel Institute and the Nobel Committee wishes Abiy Ahmed had said ‘yes’ to meeting Norwegian and international press.
Ahmed’s decision to avoid any events in which he’d need to answer questions has thus resulted in a highly amputated program for the “Nobel Peace Prize Days” that should begin in Oslo on Monday, December 9.
Events traditionally kick off with meetings at the Nobel Institute with committee members and a large press conference with the Peace Prize winner that’s broadcast live.
For the first time in many years, the Nobel press conference has been cancelled, as have traditional in-depth interviews usually conducted by NRK, the BBC and Al Jazeera.
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